January 16, 2021

Jim Cate

FROM PROMISE TO POVERTY

Jim Cate had four brothers—one of whom was my maternal grandfather George Cate—and five sisters. Their parents were John and Harriet Erickson Cate.  When his sons married, John would give each of them a few acres on his farm to build their own houses.  Tom and his wife Laura and George and his wife Evalee lived side by side in this family compound. Jim still lived in the family home with his unmarried sister Tine. 

Nettie Hutsell was Jim’s sweetheart for several years. Eventually Nettie decided Jim was going to remain a bachelor, and she married someone else.  Jim increasingly spent time in the company of Laura, his brother Tom’s wife.  They were often seen together in public. While her husband was working in the fields, Laura would send her daughters next door to George and Evalee’s house and entertain Jim. One afternoon, George took matters into his own hands and barged in on the couple.  They exchanged angry words—Laura vowed never to speak to George again—and soon George and Evalee sold their home and moved away. Jim never changed.  A few years later, Laura died suddenly. 

Jim continued to make poor choices.  He enjoyed hunting—but didn’t seem to work much.  He even lost three fingers in a hunting accident.  To support themselves, he persuaded his sister Tine to sign over her interest in the family home and sold it and all the family antiques.  They moved to a small house in town and he finally married Effie Walker.  Effie talked constantly—and also didn’t work.  Jim had lost everything—so much promise, all gone.

In later years, he and Effie lived in squalor in a rented house in Cleveland—about 30 minutes from where he was born.  Every July, my mother would prepare a birthday lunch for her Uncle Jim—as a tribute to the way he was raised.  She would drive to Cleveland and pick him and Effie up, and we would gather around the table for a delicious lunch of his favorites—chicken and dumplings, fresh green beans from the garden, homemade rolls, sweet ice tea and the traditional coconut birthday cake with Mayfield’s ice cream.  He was toothless, unkempt and pathetic.  Effie never stopped chattering. He loved being honored on his day!

Mother’s final gift was to make sure Uncle Jim died in a clean room.  My father and men from his church in Cleveland brought in a new mattress to replace the one crawling with bedbugs.  Mother and her brother Jack shoveled dirt, trash, and empty cans out, scrubbed everything with disinfectant, washed the windows, hung some curtains, and added clean pillows and bed linens to the new mattress. 

Among all the debris was one lone remnant from the family home—a pretty blue pitcher.  Mother brought a bouquet of her marigolds for it, put it on a table in front of the window, opened the window to let the breeze come in. He died a few days later—after receiving this final grace from his family.

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